Half asleep, Dean feels something tingle against his skin. Like too much static searching for an outlet. It sticks on him, even as he nuzzles down further into the bed he shares with Sam. It’s late and dark and he’s still tired.
There is the obnoxious growl of an engine in the driveway. Dean is awake, all at once and entierly on reflex. The engine isn’t the Impala. He knows that sound anywhere. Sam squirms under the blankets, waking as a result of Dean waking.
Sam is still half asleep, yawning out the word.
“No, I’ll go see.”
Dean is out of their shared bed, pulling on a sweatshirt and fumbling the zipper.
Bobby’s house is cold in the fall, the whole place still and dark at night in preparation for winter. Dean regrets not putting on socks, but the screen door slams shut, the living room lamp turns on and there are two voices carrying up the stairs.
Dean hesitates at the top step, before grabbing hold of the railing and picking his way down the stairs. They’re old stairs, it’s nearly impossible for anyone to walk on them silently. Dean’s still tuned into the voices downstairs, clearer now that he’s closer to them.
“I’d love to know what kind of warding you just put on the library, it’s muting everything pr-”
The voice, the woman’s voice, cuts off for too long.
“Bobby, who’s here?”
It’s a quick, flat question. Dean hears boots, getting closer to the center of the living room.
Dean takes the rest of the stairs quickly, squeaky-creaking footsteps culminating in a thump as he jumps the last stair and lands. It’s graceful, all the weight shifting to the balls of his feet before he eases back onto his heels. The hem of his sweatpants drags on the floor.
Bobby is fully dressed, giving Dean a once over before clearing his throat. Dean looks from Bobby to the floor, tugs at the sleeves of his hoodie and squares his shoulders. He tests his knees, making sure they stay bent, keeping his weight centered.
“This is Dean Winchester.”
Dean feels something hum. It buzzes and itches in his skin, vibrates against his ribs.
Dean looks up at Bobby again.
Bobby nods toward the woman. She’s as tall as Bobby’s shoulders, black sweatshirt sleeves hanging nearly to the tips of her fingers. She’s drowning in the sweatshirt, but her jeans look skin tight. Her boots are worn and black, just like his Dad’s. There is a bag slung over her shoulder, and Dean wonders for a moment if someone dropped her off too.
She pushes her sleeves to her wrists and Dean catches the shine of metal rings.
“This is Pamela.”
When Dean finally makes eye contact with the woman, he feels the static shock across his skin. Pamela freezes, inhuman stillness for a beat too long before twitching the corner of her mouth into a smirk. Dean trips backward over the hem of his pants and reaches to catch himself on the railing.
He’s breathing hard with embarrassment and adrenalin, turning around and going back upstairs without saying goodnight to Bobby. He pauses in the hallway, hand resting on the doorway of the spare bedroom. The voices downstairs are still audible.
“... Gifted. You need to teach him.”
“Teach him what? His Daddy is a hunter-”
Dean is tracing a protection sigil on the window. He and Sam have been stuck in the same room for a few nights now. John Winchester leaving as soon as it gets dark and returning shortly after the sun rises. It’s a backwards standard, Dean knows. Normal people are all at home when it’s nighttime.
He exhales onto the glass, warm air fogging it and obscuring his previous attempt. Dean redraws the sigil, recalling it from memory and trying to will it stronger. He wipes the sigil away with his sleeve, careful about the salt line across the bottom of the widow frame. Bobby had given him a few things to practice, along with the stern warning to never leave the sigils written down.
Dean isn’t stupid, he’s nine.
At night, Sam lays out on the floor of Bobby’s spare bedroom. Ear pressed to the wood slats, he listens as Bobby describes protective sigils. They each have different names. It sounds important, and Sam tries to stay awake for it.
He falls asleep sometimes, when Bobby’s voice slurs in his ears and his eyes get heavy. There are long sentences of Latin and harsh sounding languages that don’t stick right in Sam’s brain. He listens as well as he can.
The collection of sigils Dean keeps in his head grows. Pamela spends a few days pacing the worn floorboards of Bobby’s library in early September. Dean watches her banter with Bobby over theory. Feels the crackling sparking edges of Pamela’s ability when she raises her voice. They argue about the application of sigils, and when they think he cannot hear them... They argue about Dean.
Bobby had forbid him from leaving sigils written down. Pamela had given him an impromptu lecture about the intent behind magic as she drank a glass of water in the kitchen. It leaves Dean a lot to think about. He’s not sure how to make a sigil work if he cannot write them down permanently, if he has to hide them from his Dad and Sam.
Dean is running after Sam, a giggling-happy-perfect eight year old Sam.
They’re at a park, in a small town that looks the same as all the other small towns they take up temporary residence in. The park is empty, a few crows chattering on about the start of spring. Dean watches the birds pick at the thawing ground. He also watches Sam run around the playground, jacket unzipped and stocking cap crooked.
Eventually, Sam returns to Dean, nose red and running. Dean bends and zips his little brother’s coat, pushes the mittens further onto Sam’s hands. His little brother is all smiles after being stuck inside for a few days too long.
Dean follows Sam to the swing set. He habitually takes a look around the park. They’re still alone, with the birds. The chain bites at his hands, so Dean sits in his swing while Sam kicks at the half frozen wood chips.
Dean automatically attunes himself to Sam. He’s heard his brother speak thousands upon millions of words, this is what Sam sounds like when he is hesitant.
Dean spots the flash of dimples, a nervous smile on red cheeks. He gives Sam hell for those dimples, but Dean is just as stunned by them as the women who coo over his baby brother.
“Dean, Dad doesn’t like witches.”
Sam doesn’t look at him, forgets to pretend he’s swinging. Sam keeps his eyes on the ground and waits.
Sam nods, bangs flopping into his eyes. They’ve lived for nearly eight years in each others pockets, walking the wake left by John Winchester.
“I don’t care Dean.”
Sam snuffles, a cloud flowing out of his mouth as he exhales. Dean wishes and aches to protect his brother.
The house Bobby lives in is old build. The sort of thing Sam would immediately think was haunted. Except it isn’t, he knows it isn’t. Dean had showed him the salt lines once. Bobby flipped up the corner of a rug to reveal a devil’s trap. Sam had spent all afternoon looking for charms and sigils around the house.
He found many, but he doesn’t know what they mean. He can’t know, Bobby banned him from the books in the library.
Sam reads all the other books in the house.
There is a bottle of generic laundry detergent sitting next to a rucksack full of dirty clothing.
Dean isn’t sure why it took him so long to figure it out.
Privacy is practically non-existent, which is the reason Bobby never lent him any books and forbid him from writing down sigils. However, Dean knows that John Winchester doesn’t look everywhere. The parts of his son’s lives not related to hunting and staying safe from all that go bump in the night are too boring to hold his interest.
Like school work. Or, in this case, laundry.
Dean pockets a fine-point sharpie the next evening. It takes him over an hour to carefully pen the correct sigils on the hem of Sam’s two favorite shirts.
By the end of the week, half of his brother’s clothing bears an impressive array of tiny sigils.
Bobby freezes for a count, raising his hands then stepping carefully away from the pile of laundry he’d gathered. Dean had appeared in a flurry, all loud and quick-start reflexes. He’s seventeen and he moves fast, a valuable trait in a hunter.
“Can I help you?”
Dean had rounded the corner and immediately panicked, but is now standing in the utility room fidgeting.
“Did you put anything of ours in the washer yet?
Bobby cannot believe this is the same boy that regularly hustles poker tables.
Bobby watches as Dean’s expression settles firmly into uncomfortable agony.
“You got ‘till the count of three.”
Bobby steps back further as Dean reaches into the clothes basket. He pulls out a shirt, one of Sam’s. Bobby is busy looking for a blood stain or something that would risk dying the rest of the laundry colors. (He’d done it once, gotten an ugly maroon spatter and an unfortunate smear of bleach on a good button down shirt.)
Instead, Dean turns the shirt inside out and points to the fabric right along the side seams. Bobby leans in, reaching for his glasses case. After sliding his reading glasses on he sees what Dean’s pointing at.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Sam finds the sigils on his clothing. Comes to Dean in the early afternoon on a warm Saturday, holding a grey shirt in his hands. Sam looks terrified, and Dean rushes through a stumbling explanation. The youngest Winchester calms, then, true to form, Sam begins a barrage of questions.
“Why don’t you wear any on your clothing?”
It’s honest. Dean gives his brother that.
“I don’t need to, the sigils are powered by me. I can just make them or put them on a piece of paper in my pocket.”
Dean is lying through his teeth on that last part, he’d never considered carrying sigils in his pockets. All his effort went into keeping Sam safe.
“Can you make them invisible? Then you can put them anywhere.”
Sam isn’t asking questions anymore. Dean knows he’s just thinking out loud.
Pamela carefully explains how some sigils can be lain down without requiring a permanent mark. That they are powered by the will of the person who made them.
“So. Can I mak-”
“Shut up Winchester.”
She’s irritated, it’s bleeding into the lesson she should not have to be giving Dean.
Pamela uncoils from her perch, cross-legged on top of Bobby’s desk. She doesn’t know how to explain Dean’s error in a way he will understand. She walks a tight circuit through the room.
“We told you not to use sigils. It wasn’t because you lacked the ability to make them work. You are talented.”
Even with her back turned, Pamela feels Dean begin to glow under the praise.
That won’t do, not for this lesson to work.
“We asked you not to use sigils, because it kept you both safe.”
Pamela feels the room still, Dean’s energy isn’t cracking or moving. He’s fixated on the word “both.”
“You are living alongside someone who kills people with your ability.”
Dean isn’t cocksure. He’s a soldier at ready, a child trained to inherit the task of fighting monsters. Pamela knows this is the lesson, he’s learned it and they are done here.
“He’s been accepted into Stanford, full ride.”
There is a pause, loaded with subtext and loyalty and grief.
“He leaves two days from now.”
Dean knows he’s expected. Bobby’s porch light is on, and the residue of Pamela pulls at him. He’s got a rucksack slung over his shoulder and bags under his eyes.
Bobby stays seated at the kitchen table, the pieces of a revolver neatly set out on a towel.
Dean doesn’t answer.
“And drink water, your liver will thank you.”
The rucksack slides down Dean’s shoulder. The fridge light is too bright, too clean.
Dean pops the top off a beer bottle and Bobby stands. Dean doesn’t turn around, but he tracks Bobby’s footsteps through the living room and into the library.
He’s still standing at the kitchen sink when the screen door snaps closed.
Dean shuts his eyes for a moment. He’s white knuckling the edge of the sink and he’s not sure when it happened, but his hands ache now. Pamela registers clearly, it’s a wash of warm water against his system and a contrasting jolt from a lightning strike. Contradictory enough to suit her perfectly.
He looks up after he turns around. Facing her properly, he knows he looks like hell. To her credit, she doesn’t flinch at whatever energy he’s putting off.
Dean’s voice sounds flat, even to himself.
“Get some sleep Winchester.”
Without another word, Pamela presses a finger to the door frame. Dean feels a hum slide into tune, the click-pitch of something activating. He’d ask her about it, but she’s halfway up the stairs.
Pamela is curled up on a chair in the kitchen, eating from a plate of scrambled eggs in her lap. She’s half awake, bleary eyed and worn out from the drive. Bobby is drinking a cup of dark bitter coffee.
They both eye Dean over carefully when he shuffles into the kitchen.
He’s barefoot, sweatpants catching under his heels and a hoodie pulled haphazardly over a t-shirt. It’s not his normal get-up, and Bobby needs a minute to place it. When he does, he looks back into his coffee cup.
Dean is wearing Sam’s clothing.
“Pole barn in twenty minutes, Winchester.”
Pamela is out of the chair and pulling open the back door before Dean can respond.
Bobby sneaks glances at the oldest Winchester sibling. Grimaces into his lukewarm cup of coffee as Dean pours the last of the brew into a cup and drinks it down. Dean is silent as he puts his dirty cup into the sink then walks out of the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Pamela is leaning against the backdoor. Bobby has run out of coffee to use as an excuse for sitting in the kitchen, so he stands and tilts his head. It is a question and a warning. Pamela stares blankly back, disregarding the warning. They both know Dean needs to mourn. Both know the only way a Winchester can grieve is through self destruction.
“It’s my damn pole barn.”
Pamela’s eyes flicker to the ceiling, the sound of water running through the pipes drags their attention to Dean.
“Stay out of the way though.”
Dean takes the stairs loudly. Pushing past both Pamela and Bobby without making eye contact. He’s wearing the same clothing as before, with the addition of socks and his boots.
Pamela pulls open the door on the side of the pole barn, switching the lights on and crossing the empty dirt floor. Dean and Bobby follow. Bobby eases down onto a crate near the wall, Dean walking to the middle of the open floor.
“What is this?”
Dean’s voice is humorless.
Pamela adjusts her stance, feet apart and knees bent slightly. It’s an obvious move. Dean responds without thinking. His feet sliding further apart, weight dropping back over one hip.
“Spar with me.”
Pamela spots the shift, notices Dean falling into a civilian stance. Dropping his defenses in the wake of confusion.
Dean is shaking his head, turning his body toward the door, Telegraphing intent to leave.
“You’re erratic, off-center and out of control. You are radiating unease and grief.”
Pamela is taking easy steps toward him. Body language not quite a threat, but unavoidable. Imminent.
“That isn’t good enough.”
Bobby watches as Pamela closes the last few yards. Easing into Dean’s reach. The punch Pamela throws was obvious. Dean shrugs it off and backs away a step, begins circling Pamela to stay out of her reach.
“He isn’t dead, Dean.”
She swings again, this time Dean dodges the hit.
“He’s just gone.”
Pamela ducks out of the way as Dean reaches for her. His motions are sloppy, too-slow.
She lands two quick jabs in his ribs, they’re light, but they get the message across. Just in case he isn’t paying attention, Pamela slides out of his reach and skips back a few steps. She puts her hands down, loose at her sides.
“I need you to focus.”
Dean lowers his arms.
“Can you do that?”
Dean rolls a shoulder, flexes his fingers. Nods.
Pamela’s smile is there-and-gone, never reaching her eyes. She can feel Dean’s magic sparking and flaring unpredictably. It’s all rage and the shadow of promised destruction, knotted with loss. He’s grieving, and they do not have time for it.
“Spar with me.”
Pamela keeps her voice calm. It’s an offer this time, an invitation to be the thing Dean cuts himself open on.
At dinner, Bobby tracks Pamela’s footsteps through the main floor of the house. Dean is sitting at the kitchen table, spooning soup into his mouth absently as he reads an exorcism. Both men glance up as Pamela enters the room, tossing a notebook down on the table. She deposits her empty bowl in the sink, turning to get a look at Dean.
He’s got a grease smear running up the outside edge of his palm. It’s likely Bobby’s doing. As is the clothing Dean is wearing now. It appears to fit him properly. Even if it’s sweatpants and a worn short sleeve shirt. Bobby eases into one of the kitchen chairs, looking first to the notebook and then curiously to Pamela.
They start by talking about sigils, the ones strictly used for protection. The basis for Dean’s knowledge of magic. Dean participates where he can. Pamela and Bobby continue the conversation, turning it into a lecture on sigil theory. Between the two of them, they tangent off into other magics.
The conversation moves, from kitchen table to Bobby’s library. Dean calls it a night after Bobby begins pulling books off the shelves, staking them on top of the desk. Pamela leans against the doorway, tiredly grinning and suggesting titles.
Sam gets off a Greyhound bus in Salt lake City. He’s a far cry from his final destination, but this is a scheduled stop-over. The terminal is accommodating enough, with benches and free wi-fi. Sam makes himself as unobtrusive as possible, blending in with all the other transient people.
It’s the work of a few moments to plug in his laptop and boot up a search page. He looks at map of the city to get a basic sense of direction before searching for motels.
After picking one close enough to walk to, Sam packs up his laptop and heads off.
By mid-June, Sam has found a job at a grocery store just down the street from his motel. The woman working the check-in desk at the motel greets him by his first name. He spends most of his money paying for a room and the rest on food. He runs, in the evenings, after his shift is over and the roads are almost empty.
The motel is a forty minute drive from Stanford. It’s a block from a dive with three pool tables in the back. He saves a little money from his paychecks, cashing them at the bank and keeping a roll of bills tucked next to his socks.
There is a blessing for salt in the book Dean is reading. It’s a short thing, written in Arabic. It is slow progress translating it, but Dean manages. A blessed jar of salt takes it’s place in the back of the Impala.
Sam settles into his dorm room. It’s the size of a closet, but it’s a single and he’s thankful for the privacy. Knows there is an adjustment period in his future, the shift between a childhood learning to hunt monsters and an adult life as a civilian.
He doesn’t unpack his clothing. Instead the bag sits unzipped by the foot of his bed. The laptop and charger are plugged into the wall and placed on the desk. After a quick check of the battery on his cell, Sam closes the door to his dorm room and dials Bobby.
“Yeah. It’s me.”
“You settling in alright?”
Sam has no idea how Bobby makes it sound so casual, so easy.
Sam nods into the phone, even if Bobby can’t see it.
“I’m proud of you, boy.”
There is nothing to say to that, so they both leave it.
Sam clears his throat, wills himself to relax.
“Dean probably isn’t going to talk to me for a while.”
Sam can’t see it, but Bobby’s face is grief.
“... So, could I send letters or something to you? Would you get them to him?”
“-Of course. You know the address.”
Neither of them hangs up. Bobby scrubs a hand over his face, Sam shuts his eyes tight. This is a growing pain in every sense of the term, marvelous that it happened at all.
“I’ve got questions, Bobby.”
Dean works his way through texts in Chinese, Hindu, Russian and German. Bobby’s books are old things. Or old copies of ancient things. He becomes fluent in Spanish. Bobby coaching him through the pronunciation of languages he’s only ever seen written.
The words feel strange in his mouth. He whispers them, over and over.
There are translation books all over the house, migrating from Bobby’s spare bedroom to the library. Dean takes them on the road, where they guide him through Socrates’ Greek.
He learned Latin as a child, along with a smattering of German and Spanish. There was French, too. Sam remembers them all, but the Latin is easiest. Brought to the surface by his level one hundred law courses and his Introduction to Law Theory class. The Greek is something he learns intentionally.
Bobby knows more languages, and he keeps Sam on his toes by sliding words into their conversation. Words that mean complete phrases in English. Words that are easier to say in English. A sprinkling of Mandarin, to coax a laugh out of Sam and the inevitable barrage of questions.
They talk about direct translations between Mandarin and Greek, Latin. They talk about words to avoid talking about Dean.
Sam spends months living out of the packed bag at the foot of his dorm room bed. He’s careful to wash his clothing the way Dean used to. Soaking it in soapy water before putting it into the wash without detergent.
It’s a slow transition, a canister of salt sits on his desk. A metal water bottle full of holy water. Part ornament, part functional reminder that the myths are still real. He doesn’t put them away. Doesn’t hide it from himself, even if he doesn’t pour a line in his windowsill. There are days he carries a boot knife blessed in the blood of a holy man.
He keeps knives. A half dozen in a desk drawer that had never seen such exciting contents. A basic switchblade stays in his book bag, lethal looking but wholly civilian. A Swiss army knife gets transferred between the pockets of his jeans. A silver blade stays in with his clothing, useful and out of place all at once.
The sigils have nearly faded from his clothing when Sam goes out and buys bedding. Not the cheap, thin sheets for sale in the campus store. He finds a cotton linen blend in a deep green.
That night, he tucks his bare skin between blankets and puts the sheathed bootknife under his pillow. There is no class the next day, so Sam turns off his alarms and waits for sleep.
Dean has the Impala.
Her engine is loud and vibrant and present as Dean drives across the South Dakota line. The road is empty. The roiling storm front in his rear-view mirror is a crackling energy he can feel inside his bones.
He’s soaked to the skin when he finally gets indoors. Grinning as he takes off his boots.
Bobby finds Dean under the Impala’s hood. All of the Baby’s doors are open, and the trunk is propped with a sawed off shotgun.
“She needed an oil change.”
“You always open the doors for an oil change?”
The oil change has been done for a while, if Bobby had to guess.
Dean is out from under the hood now, gesturing to a full oil pan and wiping his hands on a rag.
“I want to ward the Impala.”
A few days before Christmas and it’s drizzling rain across the Stanford campus. Sam stays holed up in the library for the bulk of the greying afternoon. He claims a seat by a window and watches the glass.
There is something calming about the rain, even hours later. Sam walks the long way back to the dorm, brushing soaked hair out of his face. He’s smiling when he unlocks his door.
Stripping down takes longer in wet clothing, and Sam is careful to turn everything right-side-out again before hanging it across the clothes line he rigged in the corner. He digs his phone out of his bag, checking that it’s dry before dialing.
There is the click-pitch-change of a call being connected. Sam doesn’t wait.
“The sigils have all faded.”
He exhales, uses the last of his oxygen to clarify something already painfully clear.
“They’re gone Bobby.”
Sam hangs up. Setting the phone as gently as he can on the desk before folding himself into bed.
Bobby invited both the Winchester siblings to his house for Christmas. Sam had declined immediately, spouting some bullshit excuse about assisting his Philosophy professor over the holiday. Bobby knows there is no need to help a professor after the semester has formally ended, just as he knows it isn’t his place to push Sam.
Dean appears on his doorstep Christmas Eve. Rucksack and six pack of something he picked up from the liquor store gripped in a hand.
They’re on the couch, bantering over John Wayne’s acting ability, when Pamela enters the house like she owns it. Palm slapping the door frame and activating the sigil there. It’s sloppy but effective. The familiar click-switch of a circuit closing off and humming alive.
Pamela is all joy, a grin and cold-blushed cheeks under a surprisingly credible looking Santa hat. There is a sprig of greenery tucked into the brim.
“It’s nearly solstice.”
At an ungodly hour, Pamela begins banging on the spare bedroom door. She’s shouting for Dean to wake up, with a tone that imparts both holiday cheer and manic urgency. It isn’t an actual emergency, but Dean arms himself and puts on a shirt before heading downstairs.
Dean gets glances, significant ones, from both Pamela and Bobby. It’s for the shirt, possibly the sweatpants. Both were stolen from Sam. They are also the only articles of clothing he has that function as civilian sleepwear. The pockets are deep enough to hold a blessed knife and sheath.
Bobby is eating eggs, unseasoned scrambled monstrosities that deserve better. Pamela has her boots propped on the table, a glass of juice in her hand. There is a lonely plate of buttered toast sitting in a spot Dean assumes is for himself. He pads over to the chair, muttering a greeting before settling into the seat. Upon further inspection, the toast isn’t just buttered, it’s sprinkled in cinnamon. Bobby washes down a bite of egg with something roughly the color of grape juice.
“You’re going to help refresh the warding around this place.”
Pamela shoots a grin at Dean, genuine excitement obvious on her face.
The grin falls away immediately, replaced with a look of blank impatience.
“Because afterwards, we will help you ward the Impala.”
“Baby is already warded.”
Pamela snorts into her juice. Bobby stands, grabbing his empty plate. Dean chews his toast, ignoring the press of the sheath against his outer thigh.
Pamela is crouched on the dirt floor of Bobby’s pole barn, a sigil sprinkled in salt and chalk meanders across the earth around her. It’s some sort of connecting point for the warding around the perimeter of Bobby’s property, one of three different sets of spells that anchor everything together.
They’d been at it for half an hour, chalking the ground and salting it. Burning mugwort, sage and a handful of other herbs. The ashes sitting in a stone bowl to cool for a moment before Pamela places the bowl in front of herself and grabs a blade from the ground.
“I’ll do it.”
Dean steps forward, he’s eyeing the bandage around Pamela’s palm. She’d needed to give blood for the other two anchor spells to work, but if she keeps hacking away at her palm it will take longer to heal.
“Step back Winchester.”
Her voice allows no argument.
Bobby and Dean stand outside the winding perimeter of the chalk sigil, too far from Pamela to hear the spell that activates everything. Dean doesn’t need to be told when it’s done. He can feel it. A shift that settles into his bones before sliding from his body.
He is surprised when Pamela presses both palms to the earth and shuts her eyes. A gust of wind ripples from her, erasing the sigil.
“What was that?”
Dean crosses the pole barn, stopping just before he reaches Pamela.
“The anchor spell. It locks, powers and activates all the warding we put down outside the house.”
She’s rising uneasily to her feet, dusting the knees of her jeans.
“And why couldn’t I help you?”
“I drew chalk doodles. You said the invocation and sliced yourself open. Three times.”
“It would have been useless for you to do it.”
Pamela hasn’t moved. Neither has Bobby. Dean moves, pacing a jaunty circle before facing Pamela again.
“Why would it have been useless for me to do it?”
Pamela’s smile is fond and warm.
“You are part of the reason the warding exists at all.”
She pushes past him lightly, exiting the pole barn. Bobby follows her out. Dean jogs to catch up.
“You said part. What’s the rest?”
Pamela doesn’t slow down, Bobby clears his throat.
“Sam, and the library.”
The warding inside Bobby’s house is layered. In order to refresh it, Pamela has to bring it all down.
“But first, you should see it.”
Bobby’s voice is a mix of pride and warning.
“You should see the warding, in it’s completed form. So you can understand what we need to re-make.”
Pamela explains easily.
Dean buys that explanation for half a second, until the corner of Bobby’s mouth pulls up. It’s a smile, all pride, that puts Dean immediately at ease.
Pamela is leaning against the front door, waiting for them, hands in her pockets. Dean tilts his head, opening his mouth before really thinking it through.
“I’ve always wanted to know...”
He waves a hand at the door frame. In the library, Bobby is clearing his desk.
Pamela nods, taking a hand from her pocket.
“It’s a set of wards I activate every time I come here. They conceal my magic, to a point. It’s like a mute.”
“Then why not keep it up all the time?”
“Because I power it myself, Dean. It’s not a passive warding.”
Any chance he had to think about that is gone when Pamela shouts to Bobby.
“You ready in there?”
Dean doesn’t catch every word of Pamela’s quiet Latin. She says it too fast, familiar enough with the phrasing that it’s no effort to utter it perfectly. Dean understands. He’s spoken his share of flawless exorcisms under duress, anything less than perfect gets people killed.
The place where Pamela’s finger touches the door frame glows. The sigil easily visible from where Dean stands. He watches, the light spreading across the room, quick like a jolt of electricity. This, he knows, is pure magic. More shapes become legible, wardings and sigils he knows, things he cannot recognize. Like someone gradually turning up the volume on a song, he can feel this. All the sensations that only echo in Pamela’s magic, familiar as a worn chorus and twice as solid as a baseline. There is nothing but warmth in the magic she wove into the house.
Dean is turning to get a better look around, because Bobby has never half-assed a project in his life.
The house is no exception.
Visible now is an impressive collection of sigils, arrays and wardings. Each window frame and baseboard hold sigils. Multiple sigils from different practices. The walls hold more complicated works, defense and banishment, more warding. There are symbols running up the stair railing, glowing bright on the steps themselves.
There is a devils trap on the floor, right under Pamela’s boots. She grins when she finally catches his attention.
Dean does. A sigil that spans the width of the room is decorating the ceiling in electric light, the edges of it move like water. He wants nothing more than to learn what all of this means. How it works.
“Why couldn’t I feel this?”
Pamela’s eyes flicker downward for a moment, her face a frown.
“I muted it all for you and Sam.”
Dean must look at bewildered as he feels, because she cuts him off.
“Go look at the rest.”
There is more to the house than the living room. Dean takes the stairs slowly, fingers brushing the glow of Celtic knots and Egyptian gliphs. A glance down the hallway shows the door frame of the spare bedroom lit up like the fourth of July. Crossing the threshold reveals that the floorboards, window frames, closet door and hallway door frame all glow faintly. It’s an effect completely independent from the sigils that illuminate them.
Dean knows, peering into each room upstairs, that the glass on the windows is warded. The window frames salted, the space on the floor directly beneath each bears a devils trap. Paint hidden under the carpet.
Bobby’s voice is stern, just loud enough to carry clearly upstairs.
Pamela is sitting on the living room floor, sprinkling herbs into a bowl that smolders with the ashes of bones. Bobby is puttering around the kitchen, making extra helpings of stew. Dean is putting blessed herbs and gemstones into tiny bags, to be hidden around the Impala.
Bobby appears with a bowl of stew, handing it over to Dean along with a fork. Pamela gives them both a glance, before rising from the floor and trotting off to the kitchen.
Dean nods, appreciative.
“Sam called, a few days ago.”
There is a clatter from the kitchen, then complete silence.
“The sigils on his clothing are gone. Worn off.”
Dean stays long enough to ward the Impala. He’s a live wire of tension, standing in the driveway with his bag already in the car. Pamela hugs him, cheerful and reverent. Snowflakes stick in her Santa hat, stay in Dean’s hair and dust the shoulders of Bobby’s coat.
“I expect a phone call.”
Pamela’s voice is hopeful.
Dean pulls off the highway at a rest stop just east of Rawlins. He pulls a blanket from the back seat, heavy and woolen. He’s been traveling with enough sleeping gear for two, the other blanket and two sleeping bags stay tucked in the trunk. Dean sleeps, scraping together four hours of rest before keying the ignition and heading off.
Dean clears the California state line and begins laughing. He laughs until he cries, then he dials Pamela.
There is a pause, dead empty airspace between them.
“I’m not ready to see him. I can’t. He’s got a life, Pamela.”
Dean’s forehead wrinkles in confusion.
“Your there to replace the sigils. No part of that requires seeing Sam.”
“He’s your brother Dean.”
The line goes quiet.
At the next stop for gas, Dean checks his phone for messages. There are two. One from Pamela, telling him to call with any questions. The other is from Bobby, instructing him to check his email after he settles in for the night.
There is a notice wedged in the door of Sam’s room. It is one of the generic kind, telling him he has mail to retrieve from the student center. Scrawled on the bottom are the modified hours for the holidays.
It ends up being a box, cardboard and generic. It was nearly too large for the thin, sleepy-looking student manning the center alone. They had waved an arm in it’s general direction after getting Sam to sign for delivery. The handwriting on the mailing label looks painfully familiar. He’s seen it in the margins of stolen textbooks and notebooks, on post-it’s and motel bathroom mirrors. It’s Dean’s.
Sam doesn’t open the box until later, a locked door and the solitude of a single dorm room buffering other people from this part of his life. There is a reason Dean wanted Sam to know he sent this package. Otherwise, there were a dozen ways to make it anonymous.
Held closed with tape, bearing no sign of weathering any elements. Sam wonders how close his brother was. How close he chose to be. That dredges up and ache he isn’t ready for, one he buries by cutting off the mailing label and then slicing the tape holding each flap down.
It’s clothing. Sam kneels on the floor in confusion before pulling each item out, laying them across his bed. An assortment of shirts, shorts, pullovers and a thin smattering of jeans. All solid colors, not a plaid button up to be found.
The end of January heaps the Midwestern United States with snow. It’s the kind of storm that gets forecast a week in advance. The sort of weather that has people stocking up on extra groceries and canceling weekend plans.
As sturdy as she is, the Impala was never cut out for navigating un-plowed back roads. Dean dials while parked at a gas station on the western edge of Nebraska. The call nearly rings out.
Pamela’s voice triggers a rush of gratitude.
“I’m assuming you called for a reason, Dean.”
“Oh, yeah... The storm?”
Dean is thankful for the first time that Sam is off at Stanford. Had he been present to see this, Dean would never live it down properly.
“Yes, it is going to snow.”
Of course, Pamela might not let him live it down either.
“In that case, I’m hanging up.”
“Bobby already called.”
“I’ll send you the address.”
“There are blankets on the couch and...”
“Shut it Winchester. You don’t have a lot of time.”
Dean has managed to develop a tension headache during the call. He presses the heels of his hands to his eyes.
Pamela calls when he is four miles out, guiding Dean to a two story house with a shallow porch. She meets him around back, and they fit the Impala into the garage alongside her truck. They are going to have to dig the vehicles out later, but he’s thankful that Baby will be out of the snow.
Dean follows her footprints in the snow, stomping his shoes at the back door. He toes off his boots as best he can after he gets inside. Pamela is already shucking her jacket, hanging her scarf on a hook.
“Was there anything else you needed from the Impala?”
Pamela’s question is paired with a quick appraising once-over. There is nothing sexual about it, even if the look is warm. It’s far more concern than consumption.
“Yes, actually. I’ve got some wool blankets and stuff.”
The stuff is spare clothing, extra shoes and socks because his boots are now wet. While this snowstorm may stretch out for a few days, Dean only has enough clothing in his rucksack to make it a night.
“Best go get it now.”
Dean shuffles back into the house several minutes later, arms bundled with wool blankets and a bag over his shoulder with clothing and emergency supplies. Pamela points him toward the stairs, following him into a sparsely furnished spare bedroom. She tells him where to find spare towels, and watches him fold the wool blanket over the end of the bed.
“What the fuck have you done?”
Dean is drawing his gun from under his pillow, the weight of it sliding into his hand with easy familiarity. The barrel is pointed at Pamela, lined up for a head shot at point blank range. She raises a hand and he feels it, a scalding jolt of magic that pulls him all the way into consciousness.
He’s lowered the gun. Both hands scrubbing at his face because sleep isn’t an option with all the adrenalin burning through his system.
“Again. What the fuck have you done?”
Pamela manages to reiterate the statement in the most bored tone of voice conceivable to man. Dean, for his part, is nonverbal. Still feeling the after-burn of her magic. He wants to know what she did, and how she did it.
There are more pressing matters, which become obvious the moment Dean glances away from Pamela and takes in the spare bedroom.
It has snowed, indoors.
They both hold coffee cups, Dean clings to his with both hands, sipping absently at the hot liquid. It’s still early in the morning, but he’s wide awake, watching as Pamela checks the blackout curtains on the ground floor windows. They do not look like blackout curtains, at first glance. They’re light grey, floor length things.
Much of Pamela’s house doesn’t fit with what Dean knows about it’s owner. He’s sure that is because he arrived here exhausted from the road and promptly went to sleep. He also made it snow, somehow.
Pamela has been pretty calm about that. He wonders if it’s because she knows how to fix it. Equally likely, she is deeply upset with him for making it snow indoors, and is simply too tired to enact revenge on him. He doesn’t blame Pamela either way.
She’s standing in the living room, clad in sweatpants that have seen better days. She’s got a pullover on, the seams aren’t laying right across her shoulders.
Dean isn’t doing much better, tucked into Sam’s old sweatshirt and a pair of sweats that need replacing soon. He’s foregone socks, in his rush to get downstairs.
“Do you have any idea what we are doing here?”
The Irish cream in Dean’s coffee leaves a warmth in his stomach.
“You made it snow.”
He begins to feel a gentle electric pull across his skin. Pamela’s magic.
She crosses the room, setting down her cup before flexing her fingers.
“There is a lot of magic you haven’t been taught yet.”
Dean stays quiet, this is a lesson.
“Sigil magic is powerful. Just as powerful as any other kind.”
Pamela’s hands are spread wide, her breath even.
“It’s more rigid, too. You can alter a sigil, to a point. Add it with others. But there are limits.”
Her hands begin to move, a slow fluid wave that begins in her shoulder.
“There is more organic magic. Shaped and powered by it’s caster.”
Snow is whirling gradually into the living room, pulled from the rest of the house like filings to a magnet.
“That magic is limited only by the ability of the person using it. It requires focus and will.”
The snow is a sloping mound at Pamela’s feet. The parts of the house Dean can see appear to be snow-free. He watches, grip loosening on the coffee cup. The snow rises, suspending itself in the air before turning to steam. It’s a shock, surprising in the way his first demon was surprising. Impossible but absolutely and unarguably real.
The cup falls from his hands. Pamela’s magic is soothing over him, easing the tension from his body. But he’s not paying attention. Hunter reflexes are good, Dean’s are tuned sharp-flat from the mix of adrenalin and alcohol.
He thinks ‘stop.’ Makes an aborted move to reach for the cup, even as gravity takes it. Something clicks, in his bones and bloodstream. Falls into place and stays, a circuit closed. The cup stops. Lingers in the air by Dean’s kneecaps.
Pamela scoops some scrambled eggs onto a plate, Dean standing off to the side. She moves to the fridge and he takes her place, pushing the rest of the eggs from the pan to his own plate. Breakfast was delayed, an unspoken decision. After clearing the snow from inside her house, Pamela had yawned, a grin splitting her face as she excused herself for more sleep. Dean had managed a few more hours as well, before returning downstairs again.
There are some bar stools -the backless wood kind- pushed up against a stained worktop. The kitchen doesn’t seem big enough for a proper table with chairs. It’s empty, impersonal and functional in a way Bobby’s house isn’t. From what Dean has seen, that theme carries through the house. There is a lack of color. Everything in washed out grey, white, that weird trendy almost blue. Anything with a pigment seems worn, battered but in good repair.
“Letting me stay here, putting the Impala in your garage. All of it.”
Dean puts a forkful of egg into his mouth, carefully avoiding saying anything else.
They are cleaning up, Dean hand-washing the breakfast dishes while Pamela looms around the kitchen. She’s prepped a pitcher of tea, the water turning darker as the bags seep. The pitcher sits on the now clear worktop, two glasses waiting beside it. Dean shifts a few questions around in his head, trying to prioritize them before they all come spilling out in a mess.
“You called it organic magic?”
Putting the last plate on the drying rack, Dean turns to lean against the counter.
Pamela nods, settling onto the stool.
“How did you learn it?”
She cracks a grin, wide and genuine before hopping from the stool and calling him to follow.
They are climbing the stairs, crossing the hallway and into Pamela’s bedroom when Dean finally comes to a sharp stop. The rest of the house looks like a crash pad, sparse and generic. Not here.
She’s turning to face him, nodding her permission for him to look around and he takes it. He’s never seen more of Pamela’s life than the outside of her truck and the contents of her rucksack when it she’d empty it onto the floor or desk at Bobby’s. He knows her clothing and the sound of her boots on old wood flooring... But until yesterday, he’s never known what she calls home.
There are weapons in the closet, sitting atop a dresser that’s been shoved in the space. It’s an assortment of knives, some in different materials. Dean knows, without further inspection, that there is a sawed off shotgun and a revolver somewhere in this house. A few rack of industrial shelving holds sleeping bags, hurricane lanterns, flashlights, gallon jugs of water and salt. Closing the closet doors reveals a sigil, gracefully wrought in gold paint. It’s useless, since the seam of the doors breaks the sigil into parts, but it’s beautiful.
Dean turns to the rest of the room.
He steps back, taking in the floor to ceiling bookcase. It’s organized, a collection of medical texts, reference books on chemistry, biology, physics, botany and a few on home repair. Tucked away on the shelf are a collection of mythology books, next to them sit an assortment of religious texts. All the major players are there, and Dean smiles to himself as he spots the translation books.
Thinking of Sam is inevitable, at this moment. It’s a self inflicted gash that heals as soon as it’s made.
There are rugs on the floor. Overlapping each other. They are old things, woven and fraying at their ends. Dean would bet a fortune Pamela has painted their undersides with warding sigils and containment sigils and fuck-up-your-shit sigils. The room takes up the bulk of the second floor, nestling in under the peaking roof-line of the house. It’s spacious. There is a bed that seems too large for someone as small as Pamela. It is also covered in throw pillows and piled with extra blankets.
Dean spots the details, a laundry hamper against one wall, bedside table with a phone charger, an over-sized leather chair with a tear running up one side. This space is as tidy as the rest of the house, but it’s lived in.
“I like what you’ve done with the place.”
She inhales, gesturing for Dean to take a seat.
He prompts her, earning a smirk as she settles on the corner of her bed.
Pamela waves a hand at the bookshelf.
“Sigil magic is easy. Memorize which sigils do what and put them down. Some even power themselves, a lot of them can be boosted by someone giving them more energy. Drawing them with blood, or whatever. They aren’t accessible to everyone, because the knowledge is guarded. There are loads of sigils that have been lost because the books they were written in were destroyed or the people who knew then died before passing them on.”
That isn’t new to him. Hunt long enough and there are a few sigils that become worth memorizing. They are the only things he had been able to use in front of his Dad without earning suspicion.
Pamela nods to herself.
“To pull off non-sigil magic, there has to be an understanding of what you are trying to do. There isn’t any short cut to it. Not everyone can do it. Most witches can’t, actually.”
Dean sees her eyes lose focus, she’s thinking and the words are not coming easily to her.
“Then why can I do it? I made it snow in your house. Without trying.”
Pamela spreads her hands before clasping them together in her lap.
“Nobody knows. It’s above my pay grade to give you a solid answer on that. Best I can do is guess.”
“No. I want to hear it.”
“I’m a psychic. Best guess is the ability to use magic was a side effect.”
He stays quiet, she pushes through.
“Organic is just a description, it’s not what that type of magic is called. This is magic, pure magic. People were not supposed to have it. If they were, it wouldn’t only be cropping up as a side affect of some other supernatural trait.”
“I don’t have anything.”
Dean throws it out there quietly, aware that Pamela knows already.
“No, not that we know of. Still, you made it snow in my house.”
She swipes a hand in his direction, then turns back to the books.
“As I was saying, you’d need an understanding of what you are trying to do in order to make organic magic work.”
“You need an example?”
Dean shoots her a thankful grimace.
Pamela rises from the edge of her bed. She begins pacing the floor in a haphazard way.
“Do you know how color works?”
Dean sifts through memories, he’d learned this twice. Once himself, and again in greater depth once Sam took advanced classes in high school.
“Great. If I wanted to turn this wall blue, I could paint it. Or, knowing how light refracts color from surfaces, I could just alter the light to show the color blue. Everybody in the room would see a blue wall, even though-”
“The wall isn’t blue.”
Pamela’s grin is a mile wide, megawatt thing.
“But if I only wanted you to see a blue wall? I could push your brain to react to the wall as if it were blue. Or I could adjust the rods and cones in your eyes until everything you saw was blue. It would be overkill, and incredibly obvious that someone was fucking with you... But mission accomplished either way.”
She stills, letting Dean absorb it for a moment.
Dean sits cross legged on the spare bed in Pamela’s house. It had stopped snowing for a few hours, but begun again. Pamela had assured him they had supplies to last for several days.
He is still mulling through organic magic. Horrified and amazed at it’s potential, he wants to play with it. He wants to forget about it and pretend Pamela never told him about it. That last option isn’t an option. He made it snow indoors. More importantly, there are things more adept at magic, clean pure cataclysmic magic, than he is.
So he squares his shoulders and inhales slowly. Counts off breaths, until he can hear his pulse and feel the blood move under his skin. Then he begins.
Three days after the storm sets itself against the mid-western United States, it leaves, energy spent and snowfall mellowed.
Pamela waits until Dean has settled in front of a bowl of quick oats before she tells him they’re digging out today. He cocks an eyebrow at her, recalling the way she cleared the snowfall from her house. All he receives in return is a laugh and the assurance that they need to clear snow like civilians.
She lives here, after all. There are appearances to keep up.
They drink hot chocolate for breakfast. Dean is loose, nearly languid as he saunters downstairs for the first time that morning. He’s made progress with organic magic. Most of it had come late in the evenings, when he’s been to tired to be anything except clear headed and calm.
He starts a load of laundry, thinking of Sam.
Dean’s clothing had always been sparse, whatever fit into the bag he allocated for it. Lately he had been forced to get rid of some shirts, things too worn at the seams. He had meant to pick up replacements while buying clothes for Sam, but it hadn’t happened. Perhaps Pamela will point him in the direction of somewhere he can buy clothing on a hunter’s paycheck. He’ll ask later.
Pamela is upstairs, curling up with a book, bedroom door ajar. It is as clear an invitation to disturb her as any. So he raps his knuckles against the door frame as he enters the room.
He wants to tell her that he is thinking of packing up the Impala and heading out. Except it’s bullshit. He hasn’t seen a newspaper or gone online since he walked into the house.
His mouth had opened, at some point. So he closes it and searches for something to say.
“Sam is safe. Bobby knows you are here.”
“You don’t need to be taking me in like a charity case.”
“I’m not done, Winchester.”
Pamela had put the book aside when he entered the room, now she rises from the chair.
“There are a ton of things you don’t know yet. Ignorance ever serve you well on a hunt?”
They both know the answer to that.
“Great. Once your laundry is done we can go grab some groceries.”
Pamela’s grin reaches her eyes.
“You owe me burgers.”
He argues because she’s familiar, because his brother is halfway across the country and Dean hasn’t had run of a kitchen in months.
“It snowed in my house.”
Bobby doesn’t hover around his phone. He expects the call from Pamela telling him Dean has left, driven off in search of a case because he doesn’t know how not to be on the road. It comes later than he would have thought.
He listens as Pamela talks about Dean’s cooking, and Sam’s sweatshirt. There is laughter in her voice as she explained how he made it snow inside her house. There is worn sorrow too, when Pamela mentions Dean’s poor eating habits, the shadowed circles under his eyes.
A month before the end of second semester and Sam catches himself shaking in the hallway. It’s five minutes before lecture starts and he thinks nothing of it.
He spends the entirety of the lecture staring at the top of his notebook, which stays empty. By the time the lecture is over, he’s gulping down lungfuls of air and trying not to panic because he still isn’t getting oxygen.
Unable to make it all the way across campus, he locks himself in a unisex bathroom on the second floor of the library. Sam makes a calculated effort to not look in the mirror. He washes his face with hand soap, drinks half of his water bottle and white knuckles the edges of the sink.
Dean hunts. Scrounging up leads in local newspapers and spending spare days at Pamela’s house.
He buys a pair of boots, a sturdy leather belt, some cotton t-shirts. He tears apart the bottoms of the boots, carving sigils into them. He leaves a few drops of his blood smeared against the tongue of them, pushing all the magic he can into the sigil work.
After he finishes, Dean re-boxes the boots in their original wrapping. A trip to the post office and some small talk with the elderly woman minding the counter, then the boots are on their way.
Sam gets a bus ticket in the mail. The sender’s address is a post office in Colorado, and the envelope arrives three days before the end of semester. It’s Dean’s handiwork, even without anything solid to prove the suspicion, Sam knows the feel of his brother’s actions. The anonymity in stark contrast to the thoughtfulness of the gesture.
It’s July by the time Dean pulls the Impala onto Bobby’s property. The eldest Winchester has slept at rest stops, rat-trap motels, the couches of fellow hunters and in the beds of one night stands. He’s not avoiding Bobby.
Sam is in the kitchen when Dean enters the house and taps a finger to the door frame. Pamela had taught him how to boost the warding, and he’s done it out of habit every time he’s crossed the threshold.
Sam is here.
Dean doesn’t know how to stay in one place, can’t sleep under the same roof as his sibling even if he wants to. He knows himself enough to have manufactured a reason to leave even before he arrived. It’s caught in the back of his throat as he eyes up the line of Sam’s shoulders.
Sam, for his part, stares back. All unblinking wide eyes and hopeful disbelief.
Sam’s voice is still a honeyed tenor, bright even without much volume.
Dean can’t hold that eye contact. So he doesn’t try. Instead, he picks at the details. Sam is wearing the boots Dean sent, and one of the many cotton t-shirts Dean picked up from thrift stores around the country. The sweatshirt he stole from Sam feels heavier in his bag somehow. Dean knows he can’t wear it in front of his little brother without invoking guilt. Knows that only because a pair of boots seems to be blaming him for all the times he wasn’t there.
“How long are you sticking around for?”
Sam asks cheerfully.
Dean’s thought process stutters to a halt. It isn’t the boots that invoke guilt after all, or if they did, it’s an amateur attempt compared to that question.
“I’m headed out tomorrow afternoon.”
He drives the Impala three hundred miles before stopping for anything other than fuel. Then another six hours before deciding to sleep, pulling off the highway and driving the first dirt road he finds. Eventually passing a building that looks uninhabited. Dean doubles back, when driving further down the road yields nothing promising.
After parking the Impala around the back of the building, a farmhouse without a farm, Dean unloads his gear.
Urban camping is different than crashing out in the woods. Most notably in how easy it is to lay down sigils. They blend into the graffiti on the walls nicely enough, and civilians think they are the results of satanic worshipers defacing property. It’s not accurate, not by a country mile, but that theory goes down better than the truth.
Dean Winchester wasn’t raised an idiot. Even if the bottles of unopened liquor next to his bag are a prelude to the multi-day bender he’s bracing for... He’s a hunter. First, last and always. So, he uncaps the first can of spray paint and gets to work.
Sam’s sweatshirt is in his bag, Sam’s voice is in his head. The way Sam occupied space and wore a boot knife and moved without making a sound... It all sticks in Dean’s brain and stays.
The paint fumes mix with the smell of alcohol as Dean opens the first bottle. He imagines it all tastes the same.
Sam can tell which things Dean has worked magic into. At least, he thinks he can. He calls Pamela to ask why he can feel the echo of his brother’s magic on his clothes. She had laughed, light-hearted and joyful, before asking if Sam felt like he was in any danger.
The pause across the line had made the conversation heavy. He struggled to explain that he didn’t know what his brother’s magic felt like, but this warm sense of security must be it. Pamela had hummed something close to agreement, reminded him to call her if he needed help, and hung up.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Sam is walking through the mostly empty dorm. He’s tired. Exhaustion from too many all-nighters spent on papers he needed to ace. His full ride did not allow room for failure.
The absence of all that expectation is a strain unto itself. He’s out of it. The only reflexes he has are the ones trained into him. Those don’t fade, no matter how hard he plays civilian.
So, Sam Winchester notices when he grabs his dorm room door handle and it turns just a little too far in his hand.
When it’s supposed to be locked.
Exhaustion transmutes into awareness. This is the Winchester in him, the hunt and the hunter. Placing the bag of take-out against the wall, Sam removes the knife from his boot.
Dean had put the Impala into storage, an orange and white set of outdoor garages a few miles from Stanford campus. He paid cash for two months and then parked Baby inside. Chalking sigils to ward against theft on the concrete floor.
After fastening a lock on the garage door, he pushed magic into the mechanism. Heating the tumblers and pins until they’re beyond function. Later, he will super cool the metal to make it brittle and break the lock from the door.
He took a bus to campus, bag tucked against his side. Trying to blend in with the civilians. He’d worn clothing specifically bought for this. Dark wash jeans without a drop of blood on them, a clean grey zippered hoodie. His boots stayed, comfortable and sturdy. It had taken hours to scrub them clean. He’d used a spare toothbrush and a motel sink in Nevada to get the job done.
Locating Sam’s dorm had been easy. The security on the building was laughably lax, given the impending holiday. Picking the lock had proven a shade more difficult, he’d walked the hallway once before doubling back to Sam’s door.
There were advantages to his brother living like a monk. It made the room much easier to search, so Dean was gentle about it. Carefully shifting notebooks and papers aside, noting the knives in the desk drawer and the salt on the desk top. There wasn’t a sigil or warding placed over the room. Nothing sparked with new magic.
Dean could read the echo of his magic in Sam’s clothing, still tucked into a duffle bag.
If he had not been listening for the sound, Dean wouldn’t have caught it. The mechanized roll of the doorknob, easing past the point it would have stopped, had Dean remembered to lock the door behind himself.
The eldest Winchester inhales, pictures thunderstorms and oceans, the absolute still of subzero winter. Exhales and reaches for the part of himself that knows magic.
Sam is quick, wrenching open the door and moving inside the room. He falls into a crouch, knife and forearm up to protect his face. Sam exhales, breath visible in the suddenly cold room.
Dean offers a smile, the apologetic kind.
Sam rises, still holding the knife as he distractedly waves a gesture to Dean. Dean, for his part, is amused. He watches Sam duck halfway into the hall to rescue a paper bag full of takeout. Dean moves a half step forward to help Sam with the door, or the takeout or his book bag.
“Stay where you are, please.”
Sam sounds tired and lethal. It’s the tone of his voice that makes Dean stop, not the words.
Sam moves around the room easily, sifting through the bag at the foot of his bed before pulling a silver knife out. He stands, looming slightly over Dean, reaching for his arm. Breath still visible, Dean allows Sam to take his arm. Watching apathetically as his brother pulls the blade across skin. Sam places the mark to look like a defensive wound, high on the outside of his forearm, near the elbow.
The blade clatters when Sam tosses it onto the desk, grabbing a container filled with water before pouring some into the palm of his hand. Sam swipes the liquid over the cut, glancing at Dean’s face as he does so.
Neither of them seem to know what to do afterward.
Dean finds words first.
“Do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?”
Sam seems to realize his brother is bleeding, ignoring the words Dean is saying in favor of finding something to cover the wound.
“Um, no. I don’t have any... Plans.”
Sam pulls open the top drawer of his desk. Looking inside long enough to confirm there are no first aid supplies inside. Dean grins, a quick thing that slides off his face. He kneels in front of his bag, reaching inside blindly, pulling out the travel first aid kit by feel.
The room has warmed up.
They are both picking at the last of the takeout when Sam goes still.
Dean knows that is a question, or the prelude to one.
“Why was the room cold, earlier?”
Dean isn’t ready for this part, the “Guess how I’ve learned to use Actual Magic, Sam” portion of this visit. He quietly clears his throat, and thinks about the water bottle tucked into his bag.
“That was me.”
Dean has the pleasure of seeing Sam’s expression go flat.
Sam leans forward in his desk chair, elbows resting on his knees, hands coming together.
“Ease up on the eyes, Sammie.”
Dean’s looking at the floor, because his six-foot-plus beanpole brother has improved upon his already devastating earnest expression.
“But why ice, specifically? Why not fire or throwing furniture across the room?”
Sam is sprawled across the bed, Dean sits backward on the desk chair.
“Humidity. It’s easy to find water, and it takes a few different forms.”
Dean reaches out, pressing a fingertip to the wall. Ice spreads, thin fractal shards coalescing into a sheet that coats the wall completely. Pressing his palm to the ice, Dean focuses, the sheet thickening as the room becomes drier.
Neither of them mentions that the human body is made of water. They do not talk about the blood in their veins being liquid, governed by the same physics that Dean just manipulated.
Pulling his hand from the wall, Dean focuses on speeding up the molecules. Motion, instead of stillness. The ice evaporates, skipping the stage where it melts. Where it should melt.
Dean hasn’t eaten dinner, or lunch. Breakfast was a truck stop hot dog, one hundred miles before he put Baby into storage. There are granola bars and energy bars packed in his bag. Emergency food that hardly qualifies itself as a meal.
He is opening his mouth to convince Sam to join him on a food run when the cheap halogen lights catch the dark circles under Sam’s eyes. The light hollows out his brother’s cheekbones, and the notch between his collarbones. Sam shifts, packing up the empty takeout containers, and the shadows look normal again.
Dean unrolls his sleeping bag while Sam heads down the hall to dispose of the takeout.
Sam is rubbing a hand over his eyes, cross-legged on the narrow dorm bed. He is trying not to read into what Dean is wearing. Recognizes the sweatshirt as something of his, the sweatpants as something soft and comforting. Dean has his back to Sam, running a hand over the door frame.
“Just a minute Samantha.”
Dean glances over his shoulder, throwing Sam a smile. It’s the genuine kind that eases the glare from Sam’s face.
“What are you doing?”
Dean takes a step back from the door. Hand dropping to his side.
“Securing the door.”
Dean looks to the desk, spotting the water bottle before snatching it up.
He pours a bit into his cupped palm. Dipping two fingers into the liquid before swiping a sigil on the door. Finished with the door, he takes a few steps to the empty span of wall on his left. Placing an identical sigil on each wall before kneeling on the floor. An identical sigil is placed in the floor.
When he is finishes, Dean looks up to see Sam, peering curiously over the edge of his bed.
“What are you doing, specifically?”
“Warding the room.”
“And what, Sam?”
There is a snort from Sam’s general direction. Dean can hear it, but he’s too busy to respond properly.
Dean stands on the sigil he just drew. Closing his eyes and focusing. The intent is to seal the room against anything that means Sam harm. Anchoring the magic to himself is easy enough. Using himself to power the warding and protection sigils isn’t really a by-the-book solution. However, Dean plans on lifting the magic in the morning.
It is easier for him to fall asleep.
Sam is asleep when Dean wakes up.
Dean doesn’t wake his brother. Instead, he quietly pulls a notebook and pen from Sam’s belongings and begins sketching out sigils. Off to the side, in the margin of the paper, Dean writes out a grocery list.
When he finally wakes, Sam is groggy. Easing from his bed like a civilian while Dean watches him from the floor. Bedroll packed, still in pajamas.
“Cafeteria will be closed soon, we should-”
Dean softens his voice, pitches it without an edge.
“Easy Sam. We’re going on a grocery run.”
Sam rolls onto his back, dragging the comforter into a tangle as his arms sprawl over the sides of the bed. Dean ignores the symbolism, the hundreds of images in books that portray sacrifice. Dean knows what sacrifice looks like.
It takes a few minutes for Sam’s body to wake up, in the interim, Dean holds back amusement. Sam nearly trips over his own limbs, tugs anxiously at the ends of his hair, yawns.
When he lifts the warding that encapsulates the room, Dean promises himself that there will be time to apply something better.
Dean is staying at Bobby’s. Both of them leaning over the gutted engine of a car Bobby towed off the highway for two hundred dollars. The engine is still good, good enough to repair and sell for a tidy profit. Bobby likes working alongside Dean, even if all they’ve gotten up to is chit-chat.
It’s still early in the afternoon when an unfamiliar truck pulls up. It parks behind the Impala, and Bobby grimaces to himself. The truck has five hundred miles of road grit caught up in it’s wheel well. The front quarter panels have a film of dust and specks of old rust at their edges. Next to the Impala, Dean’s pride and joy, this rig looks terrible.
Bobby knows, without looking through the dirty windshield, who sits in the driver’s seat.
John Winchester gets out of the truck, fixes the gun at the small of his back and walks toward them both. Bobby should shoot him, on principal. Just for the way Dean straightens into something that looks like parade rest. Briefly, Bobby considers shooting him twice. Sam deserves his own bullet.
John nods at Bobby, a dismissal if there ever was one. Bobby stays.
“Dean, pack up your things. We’ve got a case.”
“I’m in the middle of something.”
“Wrap it up. We leave in an hour.”
Dean stalks the things that go bump in the night. His path intersects with his father’s a handful of times in the course of a year. Occasionally, they collide in the same bar, chasing the same lead. Other times Dean answers his phone only to hear John tell him a set of coordinates and nothing more.
The cold end of February.
John Winchester drops off the radar in early March.
Midway into April, Dean is in New Orleans. Sleeping off a mellow salt-and-burn in the bed of a blue haired bartender. He doesn’t hear his phone ring, curled into the warmth of an actual mattress and crumpled comforter.
The bartender is cooking eggs, humming along to the radio and the domesticity of it makes Dean ache. Turns ugly and sour in his stomach. He flips open his phone for something to do.
“...Get Sam. You’re in danger Dean.”
It’s the first he has heard of his father.
Dean gets the Impala to the end of the block, watching Sam unlock the building’s front door in his rear view mirror. His magic itches, restless beneath his skin, demanding an outlet.
The flare of light from the third floor window aligns neatly with the electrical storm that sparks across his system. Urges him to get to Sam. The Impala slides into reverse at a touch and Dean doesn’t bother with a three point turn or general road safety. Reverse gets him back in front of Sam’s building.
He’s upstairs, wrapping an arm around Sam. The live-wire electricity in him harmonizing immediately. Dean shuts his eyes, focuses. There is so much potential energy stringing itself out in his bone marrow, clawing up his spine.
Dean wills the room frozen, breaking open a pipe in the kitchen and another in the bathroom in order to provide enough water. Every surface gets coated in thin frost and then thicker ice. Jessica’s eyes are glazed, her body both charred and crystallized.
He is still holding onto Sam, even as his brother moves back into the apartment. Dean can hear his own heartbeat stammering in his ears. It’s interrupted by a high pitch whine before everything goes quiet.
“Sam, grab whatever you can. We need to go.”
Dean feels Sam move through the apartment. The inside of his mouth begins to coat itself with saliva. The edges of his vision become fuzzy. He knows this feeling, it’s shock. Trauma. Bloodloss and adrenalin making an anatomical miracle. Dean is upright, if only just. He doesn’t have long.
The fire still burns, contaminated magic sourcing the blaze presses against Dean. Spots flicker across his eyes and Dean pulls the remnants of his magic close. Sam appears with a few bags over his shoulder, winding an arm around Dean’s waist.
It is a straight shot to Pamela’s.
Dean stops thirty minutes from the house to fill Baby’s tank and make a grocery run. He leaves Sam in the car, along with the keys and strict instruction to not leave the Impala under any circumstances. He pats the roof of the car before heading into the small mom and pop grocery. He doesn’t have any magic to will into the gesture, at least none he can spare.
Pamela is waiting for them.
It’s Dean who called her, exchanging information and an estimated time of arrival despite the adrenalin crash cutting into his voice.
He’s still tired when the Impala pulls across her property line, the familiar feel of her magic does nothing to calm him. He keeps Sam in front of him, on edge until all three are inside the house. Pamela closes the door and presses her palm to it, the weight of this ward is different. Dean can feel it rest on him.
Sam is the picture of exhaustion, standing in Dean’s line-of-sight because this is their default. The Winchester sibling’s orbit each other. Pamela knows. She’s simply forgotten what it looks like until now.
Dean places the grocery bags on the kitchen counters before turning to Sam and leading the way upstairs.
Pamela boosts the warding before sitting down beside Sam. There is a spread of sandwich supplies an the counter, and a pitcher of unsweetened tea. It’s a simple dinner. Dean finishes up quickly. He’s putting the bread away, back turned to the rest of the room.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Dean tenses. Pamela means well, her voice is unarmed concern. Her wards are protecting them because Dean doesn’t have the energy to do so himself. Not right now.
“What? Oh, ah.”
Dean can picture the apologetic politeness on his brother’s face. He turns.
“Dad called me.”
The room goes quiet. Waits for the rest.
“Dad called me, and the message was full of static. It said to get to Sam, that he was in danger.”
Sam’s eyes are bloodshot. A smudge of smoke pushes into his hairline, the overall effect makes him look like a civilian, makes him look like a hunter. Dean shrugs.
“I went. Got a call about a case on the way.”
There are details omitted, Dean reaches for the relevant parts of the story.
“There was something waiting for us when we got back from the case. Specifically, it was waiting for Sam.”
“Did it follow you?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Do you know what it was?”
Dean shakes his head.
“-Dean fought it off with some ice.”
Pamela raises an eyebrow in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it expression before leveling Dean with a blank stare.
“In a minute. Moral of the story, whatever was after Sam didn’t follow us.”
The Winchesters sleep in Pamela’s spare bedroom for a few nights. Dean setting up a sleeping bag and mat from the closet. Sam’s frame sprawling over the edges of the guest mattress.
They don’t speak. Hours of silences stretching between the three of them, punctuated by impromptu meals. The brothers find Pamela upstairs in her room, door open, with a pizza and three plates laid out. She polishes a gun after they eat. Sam plucks a book from her shelf and sits down in her chair to read.
The Impala has three hundred fresh miles under her tires. Sam sits, cross legged and unfocused, leaning against one of her quarter panels. They are a dozen miles from the nearest town, pulled off onto a gravel access road.
Dean is absent from his line of sight. Though that has never stopped either brother from tracking the other, an ability honed from living halfway under another person’s skin.
The Impala is out of sight too, technically. Even if Sam can feel the metal of her pressed into his shoulders. There is a slosh of ice, the crunch of gravel. When the rear driver’s side door closes (soft because Dean calls her “Baby” for a reason,) Sam feels the vibration slide across the car.
Dean is making no effort to be quiet, so Sam tracks his brother around the Impala until he sees the hem of battered jeans. A bottle of water is pressed into his hands. Dean eases onto the ground, glances at Sam to measure out the space between them.
There is dust, a fine coating, over the black gloss of the car. Sam reaches, stretches the fingers on one hand and tugs lightly on his hair as he passes a hand through it. He blinks, flexes his calves. Tries to return to his body.
Dean watches, notices the way Sam flinches when he pops the top off his beer bottle. (The sound is nothing like a spent casing, and yet.) Stares forward, knowing Sam isn’t seeing the field in front of them. There is nothing left to do but wait.
Sam leaves the bottle of water unopened.
Dean finds a dealer in the next dive bar. A town just off highway eighty five. They’re in Wyoming, beating a slow path back to Bobby’s. He drinks a single beer. The baggie of pills in his pocket feels urgent.
He gives them to Sam, tells him they are uppers. Dean catches the tail end of something that looks judgmental crossing Sam’s face. He doesn’t tell Sam to take the pills. Doesn’t mention that the youngest Winchester has seen two women burn to death on ceilings.
Bobby welcomes them. It’s peaceful. Even if it is strained.
Dean changes the oil on Baby. Tinkers in the yard with a few cars Bobby’s fixing on the side. It’s payment, in a way, for sleeping under his roof and drinking some of Bobby’s beer.
They leave three days later. It’s as long as Dean can stand to be stationary with Sam’s grief.
Fall sinks the first frost over the midwest.
Dean dodges a punch in a rural bar, some place without functioning air conditioning north of the Florida Georgia line. He knows the blow is sloppy, but the guy who’s swinging at him has friends. Dean spots Sam, just visible in the corner of his vision.
“Fight me, ya stupid bitch.”
The guy stumbles, just a little, stepping closer to Dean. Three other men turn, watching with interest.
Dean edges a step to the side, putting the door behind himself. There are a few things between him and the door, but he takes what he can get.
Sam appears. Quicker than Dean expected him to move. Sam eases between the drunk and Dean, spreading his hands wide and raising them to shoulder height. He’s the poster boy for non-threatening body language, and Dean nearly snorts with laughter. Because Sam Winchester picked up his first gun at age nine, and has been some level of lethally capable ever since.
Dean watches his brother’s knees bend slightly.
“Move outta my way!”
They leave, only after Sam calls the drunk man’s friends over to deal with him. They put a few counties worth of road behind themselves before settling into a motel for the night.
Dean watches Sam take a running swing at a vampire. The blade neatly severing the creature’s head from it’s body. It’s November. Nearly Thanksgiving, if the calendar is to be believed.
December takes them through Northern California. They visit Alcatraz as tourists. Dean keeps a recorder in his pocket, listening to it in the middle of afternoon a few days later. It sounds normal, the crackle of EMP is expected, but there are no voices on the recording.
They watch the fog come in over the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s beautiful.
Dean spends three days putting sigils on clothing fresh-bought from the local big box store. It’s a process he’s perfected, though it takes a lot of work.
This time, Sam watches. Breaking the mellow silence to ask what some of the symbols mean.
They are back in California. It’s April and Dean guides the Impala southbound down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sam knows they are going to Stanford Campus. Just as he knows that Dean will avoid the campus like the plague, if he asks it of his brother.
They have a case first, a poltergeist. It takes them to the empty, open land between Los Angeles and San Fransisco. It’s quick. The sort of thing that they accomplish by rote and muscle memory.
John Winchester calls them.
The phone call leads to a tense breakfast in a dinner south of Cleveland. After the meal, John stands outside the driver’s door of the Impala. Waiting for the keys. Dean tosses them to Sam, before crawling into the backseat and attempting to sleep.
The Winchester siblings stand in Bobby’s barn. Sam watches as Dean takes measured breaths of air. He waits.
Dean flash-freezes all the water in the room. Several hundred crystalline drops of water float mid-air. A flick of Dean’s wrist has the hayloft door opening up, allowing sunlight to pour in and refract off of everything.
July. August. September-November-December.
They spend time. Some of it in the warm homes of adoptive family. There are hours and weeks on the road. Days spent squatting in buildings propped up with magic. There are sleeping bags and motel beds. Sunlit naps in the Impala.
Bobby gives them a key, early one December.
“I cleaned out one of your Dad’s storage spaces. In Illinois, I think. This was there.”
Dean can feel the energy on it, organic magic sparking at the metal. The whole thing felt like potential and home, so he puts it in the Impala’s trunk and waits for time to sort it out.
Dean’s eyes are open.
Sam closes them. Placing a coin over each to keep them weighted down, until rigor can guarantee they stay shut. He is inexperienced in coffin building, but the pine box seems sturdy enough. The grave is shallow, carefully filled in.
Sam marks it with a cross and memorizes the coordinates.
It’s a full body thing. Blood, lungs, heartbeat. The plasma electric-hum of his magic. Dean feels it, all at once.
Opening his eyes doesn’t change the scenery, it’s pitch black. He jostles his body side-to-side. Hitting the edges of wherever he is. He closes his eyes, exhaling what he now knows is a preciously limited supply of oxygen and tries to calm down.
The word is hoarse, his vocal cords unused or damaged.
Dean stays on his hands and knees, lightheaded and delirious. He is covered in grave dirt, an experience both familiar and brand new. Standing reminds him of a quote he read, some artist with a penchant for drawing roadkill who said ‘Everyday above ground is a good one.’
Walking is a struggle, though his musculature is healthy. For all intents, Dean’s body seems physically able to function. It’s alive, and he is alive in it. Still, movement feels unnatural to him, strange after forty years in Hell.
Carefully, Dean walks the side of a dirt road.
The sound shatters glass.
Dean is on the floor, curling into the fetal position and feeling the echo of a blade in his hand. He squeezes his eyes closed, hoping the world won’t be tinted red when he opens them. The smell of sulfur and ozone clash in his memory.
The sound stops. Dean stands, half expecting to see the pit even if he will never be ready for it. This place isn’t the pit. Isn’t even close. So Dean falls back on something he knows in his bones.
He calls Bobby. Twice, because the man is a cynic through-and-through.
Stealing a car is easy. The make is old, solid and roomy and pitifully fuel inefficient.
Bobby splashes holy water in his face.
Sam pretends to be awestruck, and Dean is too busy taking in the sight of his little brother to notice when he moves. It’s fast, Sam closing the space between them and wrapping a hand around his throat. Sam pins him with his shoulder and hip, using his body weight to keep Dean in place.
Bobby is grabbing at Sam’s arm, breaking the hold. There is a brunette in the corner of the room, staring at the three of them in confusion.
“Goddamn it. Sam, it’s him!”
Dean doesn’t move. Can’t breathe.
“I already checked. It’s him.”
Bobby breaks Sam’s hold, shoving him out of the way with a hip-check.
“Sam. It’s him.”
Pamela hugs Dean, a grip so tight it rivaled Sam’s welcome-back-from-being-dead greeting. She releases him long enough to usher everyone inside. Sam, Dean, Pamela and Bobby end up seated at a table in Pamela’s basement.
Pamela doesn’t hesitate to touch the brand across Dean’s shoulder. Dean feels his magic coil up, a resistance building inside himself as she begins the summoning.
Dean waits, hyper tense and ready for something chaotic and destructive. He doesn’t wait long, the candles begin to flare and his sense of time slows. He doesn’t think. Sam’s grip on his hand tightens. Hard.
Dean ruptures the waterline above their heads, draws from the humidity in the air and flash freezes the room. A dome forms, crackling with electricity and shining with freshly-carved sigils. It is a quick process, made faster by Dean’s familiarity with water.
The last traces of something not-his but inherently magic pour out into the warding.
It’s construction is completed in a blink. The sort of miracle Dean can only accomplish when he isn’t thinking about it. This is magic governed by will and bolstered by emotion.
Pamela’s eyes are red and watering. Sam is breathing shallowly, holding tight to Dean’s hand. Bobby slowly rises to his feet. His breath fogs in front of him.
Sam looks pale, but Dean is focused on Pamela. She’s running her hands through her hair, blinking rapidly.
She meets his eyes, nodding as she stands up.
The dome refracts the light, throwing prisms of color across the table. Pamela waves a hand at the candles and they snuff out. She’s looking at the surface of he dome with an appraising eye.
“It called itself Castiel.”
There is an out building, twenty minutes from Pamela’s house. Suitably abandoned and positioned on a plot of land large enough to prevent collateral damage or accidental discovery.
Dean throws a tarp over the Impala. Bobby carries a rucksack full of spray paint. Sam lays down a salt line.
Crafting the sigils on paper takes an hour, it is a comprehensive collection of all the protective sigils Dean knows. Bobby has a few, tucked into his journal. Sam watches them work for a while.
“You know these, all of these?”
“Most of them. Bobby knows them all.”
Sam scans the papers.
“What are they?”
“Protection sigils, containment traps, warding against evil spirits from every faith on earth.”
Dean’s grin is shallow and quick.
“You know, everything you need to catch something you know nothing about.”
Sam let’s his voice slide into a tone that puts law enforcement, old ladies and small children immediately at ease. Dean hates that voice.
“You must have done these before.”
“You’ve memorized them.”
Dean looks up from the papers, shares a flicker of eye contact with his brother and returns to his task.
“Is this what you’ve been warding me with? Are these the sigils you put on my clothing?”
Bobby grabs one of the sheets of paper from the dilapidated work surface. He swipes a can of spray paint and wanders toward the far end of the outbuilding.
Sam watches him go before turning back to Dean, an expectant look on his face.
“I’ve used nearly all of these on the Impala. Most of them are on your clothing.”
“You can’t be here when Bobby and I call this thing.”
Sam glares, it’s a helpless expression, no heat behind it at all.
“Take the Impala’s keys.”
Dean feels his temper rise. A film of red flickers slowly across his vision before fading.
Sam picks up a can of paint and gently lifts a piece of paper from the worktop.
Sigils painted, Dean sits on one of the worktops, feet swinging. Bobby doing much the same a short distance away. This is the part about hunting that nobody talks about. The waiting.
It’s boring, tedious.
Until it isn’t.
Castiel feels the gentle pull of Dean Winchester’s magic. It is calling. So they go.
The vessel of Jimmy Novak is a new experience. Sensation and movement translate differently. Castiel’s grace guides them easily to the building that houses Dean Winchester.
It is warded. The door boarded closed.
The roof rattles. Sparks of magic searing across Dean’s system accompanied by a hollow feeling in his bones. The door groans under pressure from the outside.
Bobby holds a shotgun at the ready, but Dean throws his to the worktop. It’s no use, not against whatever he can feel outside. The board across the doors begins to splinter, as Dean pushes the barrel of Bobby’s gun aside.
Bobby shouts, nearly inaudible over the sound of bulbs bursting overhead. The door gives way as Dean raises a hand.
Castiel crosses the length of the building, eyes focused on Dean Winchester. They can see the magic Dean’s wielding, the energy he’s keeping leashed even as it crackles across his soul and alights over his skin.
“Who are you?”
Dean has an arm raised, ready to take the offensive.
“I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.”
The potential Dean wields is breathtaking, thirty years on the rack and ten holding a blade in the pit have polished and sharpened his soul. Castiel feels their grace reach for it, their vessel take a few steps to move closer.
Castiel presses two fingers to Bobby’s forehead and the man drops to the ground. He’s out cold, chest rising and falling shallowly.
“We need to talk, alone.”
Dean nods, glancing up from Bobby’s spot on the ground to meet Castiel’s eyes.
“Why did you pull me out?”
Dean rises, stands within arm’s reach of the angel.
Castiel fixes him with a thousand yard stare, it’s beautiful. Cold and holy and ethereal, the sort of blue found in lightning storms. Oceans. Part of Dean reaches for Castiel.
“God commanded it.”
Castiel stares, silent for a moment.
“We have work for you.”
Castiel vanishes. The sound of displaced air linger in the wake of their exit. Dean feels the absence of all that power, his hands shake as he dials Sam’s cell.
“Head for Bobby’s. Take Pamela with you. We’ll meet you there.”
He doesn’t wait for any reply before ending the call.
The adrenalin crash puts him on his knees. Laughing shakily and pressing palms to his eyes. The echo of a blade resting in his hand whispers along his nervous system. Bobby lays on the dirt in front of him.
Dean knows how to dis-articulate his shoulder. Knows how to clean the skin from a ribcage while the heart beneath bone still beats. He’d been a bastardized Da Vinci in hell. Learning anatomy by finding it tucked around joints and under layers of bruised skin.
Dean spends a week at Bobby’s experimenting with downers.
The sedatives don’t do anything to ease the memory of pain.
He has memories of hell in spades, they worm out in vivid color during mundane activities. The drugs do manage to ease his body’s panic response. His heart beats more slowly when he’s drugged, even if all he can hear is the sound of souls breaking on the rack.
Magic doesn’t help as much as it should.
It attracts witches and demons. It complicates regular things. Abandoned houses and urban squats become safer, thanks to sigils and warding. Or safer for a given value of safe.
Laying low means not breaking the laws of physics in front of the general public. Still. They hunt, because the muscle memory of it is buried to deep to walk away from. Dean tinkers, practicing the craft he was born to.
Sam reads. An ever revolving stack of magic texts joins them on their travels.
The Impala becomes a fortress.
Sam begins asking questions. Testing the edges of Deans knowledge in magic theory. Stretches of open interstate become conversations of healing through magically bolstered cell growth.
They spar. Falling into synchronicity ends in a stalemate, a drawn out exchange of movement that deconstructs into reflexive response.
Falling out of harmony is a glitch.
Castiel appears in Bobby’s kitchen. They blend with the shadows of the space beautifully, tilting their head to the side a fraction. It’s a movement that feels lethally inhuman.
Dean’s first thought is to ward the house against angels, and if it is even possible to do so. His second thought is Sam.
Dean walks into the kitchen, focusing on the upstairs bedroom.
“Where were you?”
Dean has enough focus to spare some righteous rage for his absentee savior. Even as he forms a fragile sculpture of ice six feet above the ground in the spare bedroom.
“Nice job on the witnesses.”
Castiel turns their head, looking toward the spare bedroom.
Dean quirks a brow, there-and-gone.
“We have questions for you.”
The muffled sound of the ice sculpture breaking reaches the kitchen.
Castiel is smiling in the direction of the spare bedroom.
Dean watches Castiel track Sam as he travels the hallway, stairway and living room. The angel is completely still except for the inexplicable blue of it’s eyes.
Dean smiles automatically, aware of the solid warmth of his brother. The easy assurance in Sam’s voice.
“What gave it away?”
Dean nods toward the spare bedroom, Castiel’s face is blank for an instant before relaxing.
“I can see Sam’s soul. Your magic is also fairly noticeable, since I am attuned to it.”
Dean parses that as best he can.
Sam’s voice is low and serious. Quiet to avoid waking Bobby, but eager to get answers.
Castiel smiles with their eyes.
“Very good Sam.”
Castiel pushes away from the sink, taking a step forward.
“We cannot discuss this here.”
Dean doesn’t track the movement. Castiel is ten feet away, then they are brushing two fingertips against his forehead. There is no interim between the two moments.
Dean falls to the ground, knees in the dirt as his head spins. Despite the nausea, he’s taking stock of the area. Sam, dry heaving and mostly upright just behind him.
Castiel takes a step back, their trench coat swishes.
This is the building. The one Dean and Bobby used to summon Castiel. The board across the door has been replaced, or repaired seamlessly. All the sigils are as they were.
Castiel clasps their hands behind themselves, walking a slow half circle.
“You did a remarkable job on the sigils. It is safe for us to speak here.”
Castiel is facing the brothers again, expectant.
Sam finds his voice first.
“What did you see, back at Bobby’s?”
Castiel nods once.
“The pair of you are connected.”
“I am not finished.”
Dean closes his mouth.
“You were raised from the pit because the Host has work for you.”
Castiel pins Sam with a thousand yard stare.
“No demon would bargain with you, because of who you are.”
“What am I?”
Sam’s question hangs.
Castiel looks between them. Dean feels the residue of his own magic here, an echo that soothes. Sam closes the space between them, reaching for the cuff of Dean’s sleeve. There is the slightest contact between skin.
Everything shifts. Drastic. Subtle. Obvious. Brutal. Harmonic.
Dean is aware of the exhale that stalls in Sam’s throat. He can feel the magic that waits under Sam’s skin. Castiel tilts their head to the side, eyes flickering electric blue.
“You are the second born of Mary Cambell, who bargained your soul to save your father from death before your birth. The demon who accepted her bargain is called Azazel, and it is their blood that runs in your veins. Azazel has no claim to you.”
Castiel’s eyes are bright, the white-blue of plasma, of lightning striking ground.
“You are the Boy King of Hell. Should you will it, you could walk into the pit and claim the throne. It is yours, by right.”
“The fuck it is.”
Dean exhales the words, knees weak. Sam steps forward.
“Dean was there, why couldn’t he rule?”
“Your brother is the true vessel of Michael.”
Castiel nods, the slightest inclination of their head before continuing.
“The archangel Micheal.”
Sam paces away from Dean before circling back. Dean, for his part, focuses on how Sam’s blood moves through his body. His magic finds Sam so easily now.
“Why can I feel him?”
Dean throws the question out, ugly against the revelations Castiel has given them.
“Sam is the true vessel of Lucifer.”
“The Devil? I’m Satan’s vessel?”
“Lightbringer Morning Star.”
Castiel says it easily, a current of reverence in their voice.
Dean can feel the potential humming in Sam’s veins, compatible with the sparking energy aching under his own skin.
“The Host removed the ability to use magic from Lucifer’s vessel, in the hope it would hinder them in the battle against Micheal.”
“Prophecy says Micheal and the Morning Star-”
“Lucifer. Call him Lucifer.”
Sam’s voice brooks no argument. Castiel squints.
“Prophecy says the two archangels, take to their true vessels and battle for the fate of creation.”
Castiel nods, a single head tilt toward Dean.
“Only the righteous man can start it, and only he can end it. Our fate rests with you.”
Dean can feel the horror spreading through Sam.
“I can’t do it. You have the wrong man.”
Castiel strides forward, divine purpose and absolute calm.
“This is your problem Dean, you have no faith.”
Castiel anoints their foreheads with the lightest touch, grace shocking against the energy of Dean’s soul. The echo of grace alighting on Sam’s skin is secondhand reverence. Bewildered and humbled at contact with unfiltered divinity.
They wake sprawled in a tangle on the kitchen floor.
Sam’s eyes are wide, searching out Dean’s.
Sam spends three days forcing himself to sleep. Waking only long enough to cross the hall and use the bathroom, or pull on sweatpants and drink glass after glass of water from the tap in the kitchen.
Dean wakes him once. Presses a palm to his forehead. The touch and the burst of Dean’s magic, unfiltered by distance, is enough to make Sam choke back a scream.
Dean pulls away immediately, nearly tripping over himself in the rush to leave the room. Sam stays, easing himself back from panic and feeling the sheet against his skin.
His brother spent forty years in hell, yet Sam was born to rule it.
Zachariah stands on a dirt road in southern Iowa.
Dean can see flickers of his true form, shadowy and simultaneously brilliant. Connected to him, Sam can see the expanse of wings and the horror of the angel’s thousand faces.
“You will say yes!”
Dean’s bent over, hand clutching Sam’s jacket.
They are both weighted down with the memories of a future that hasn’t happened yet. The snap of Dean’s neck, the empty tenor of Sam’s voice. The mortality that warped Castiel into profanity.
It’s new trauma, scabbing alongside healed over wounds.
“I can send you back, children. As many times as it takes.”
Sam’s adrenaline is pumping in Dean’s blood. Dean’s horror inciting Sam’s defiance. Zachariah shifts, crossing twenty feet in a movement neither brother can track.
It’s a whisper, Dean hardly breathes it out.
“What did you say boy?”
Zachariah is an angel, empty ribs aglow and dozen limbs reaching. A halo made of miracles and time, bearing the fingerprint of the Maker, eyes that have seen the beginning and the end. A thousand mouths speak endless tongues and Dean struggles to his feet in the face of it.
Dean feels Sam, the warm hum of assurance followed immediately by raw energy. Dean isn’t sure if Sam speaks aloud, but his brother’s voice whispers inside his head.
Zachariah reaches them, arm extended to send them forward again, and again and again.
They are ready.
Dean draws magic, all of it that he has and then more. Reaches for the willing energy Sam gives, and gives. There is no practical textbook on the metaphysics of angels, or the composition of their grace. So, Dean improvises. Reaches for the angel’s grace and wills his magic to unmake it.
It becomes too bright to see.
The Winchester siblings are breathing hard. Sam winding an arm underneath Dean’s shoulders, pushing dregs of magic into his brother. Their eyes are bloodshot, cheekbones pink with fresh burns. Dean is shaking, unable to support his own weight.
“Stop it Sam.”
Dean is slurring his words, blinking hard. Castiel can see sparks of magic traveling across Sam’s skin. Undoubtedly, Sam needs to be healed. Which, consciously or not, Dean is attempting to do. Sam’s skin is pale, ruptured blood vessels mar his skin with deep bruising.
Castiel walks the few yards it takes to reach the brothers. They gently grasp Dean’s side before placing a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
It is the work of an instant to look into Dean’s memories and learn what has been done. Sam’s mind offered a different perspective, but the same events. Castiel finds themselves impressed and taken aback.
They consider asking the Host what happened to Zachariah. They are aware it would be unwise to do so. Their charges have just attempted to unmake an angel. Though Castiel is not sure that was the original intention when Dean loosed his magic.
They fly to Robert Singer’s home.
Sam opens his eyes, he’s half kneeling with an arm around Dean. Castiel standing over them both.
“Where are we?”
Sam barely manages the words, his mouth tastes like pennies and rust.
“Robert Singer’s panic room.”
Sam’s eyes flutter closed.
Castiel cradles Sam’s jaw in their hand. Running two fingers along the edge of the bone to the point of Sam’s chin. Reverent to the point of becoming a blessing. Castiel searches out the damage within Sam’s body.
It is healed, soothed over by the grace inherent to Castiel’s existence.
They reach for Dean. Pushing aside damaged clothing in order to reach their brand on his skin. Palm pressed to Dean’s shoulder, Castiel curls their free hand around the back of Dean’s head.
They heal Dean in silence.
Downtime happens. Not the hours between solving a case an closing it, not the boredom of waiting through a stake out. But weeks without a monster or a myth to chase.
Three weeks without a case finds Sam standing on the shore of Northeast Michigan, looking over the water of Lake Huron. Castiel stands a few feet away, just behind his right shoulder. Dean is further down the shoreline, throwing rocks into the water.
“Lucifer has been showing up in my dreams.”
“He’s dream walking.”
“He said I was difficult to find.”
Castiel considers all the questions buried under that statement.
“The sigils I etched into your ribs keep you both hidden from the Host.”
“He found me.”
Castiel looks away from Sam, fixing their eyes on the lake.
Sam turns, two nights of missed sleep hollowing out his face. Darkening the skin around his eyes. Sharpening him.
Sam takes downers. It works for a few weeks. His body too drugged to function as a conduit for dream walking.
Castiel sits across from him in a motel room, looking out of place at a Formica topped table.
“I’m sorry Sam.”
Neither one of them mention that he had woken to Castiel pressing a hand over his liver, easing organ failure with the cold numb of grace. It healed perfectly.
The key turns in the lock, but the door stays closed.
Dean looks over his shoulder, sparing a confused glance at Castiel as Sam presses a palm to the smooth surface of the door. Understanding dawns across Castiel’s face.
Dean’s brow wrinkles, then eases.
“This is magic.”
Castiel moves to step back, until Sam gently grasps one of their hands and presses it to the surface of the door. Dean eases his own palm against the door and inhales.
“We invoke our claim to sanctuary, by merit and blood. You are ours, by merit and birthright. Yeild.”
Dean’s voice is laced with magic.
Castiel crosses the threshold first, their fingers pressing to the glaze of old tile. It is no surprise when something flickers against their grace, a rudimentary amount of information storing itself in their angelic memory.
“Welcome to the Men of Letter’s Bunker.”
Castiels’ voice brings a smile to Dean’s face.
Sam is too far ahead for Castiel to see his face, but the muscles in Sam’s shoulders ease. That is good enough.
The Impala is parked outside a big box store three hundred miles from the Bunker.
Castiel is holding a shopping list while Dean pushes a cart through isles of housewares.
Sam wakes up crying into his blankets. They are green, organic cotton and so much a reminder of the things he’s lost that seeing them on a shelf had gutted him.
Castiel feels the unease of Sam’s distress before they locate him.
Sam is in the showers, hands pressed into the tile wall and head hanging between his shoulders. There is a pair of sodden sweatpants hanging off his frame, self-inflicted scratches mar the skin of his sides and back.
Castiel is aware that humans do not wear clothing in showers, but they do not care. They cross the slippery floor of the communal bathroom and enter the space Sam is using.
They reach for Sam with one hand, twisting the knob until the spray turned off with the other. It isn’t an elegant motion. Sam leans into Castiel’s arms and sobs so hard he’s shaking.
“How am I supposed to fight this?”
Castiel hears Sam whisper, the words forming against their neck.
Castiel doesn’t eat. Or sleep.
They sit alongside Dean and Sam during silent meals.
They lay atop the blankets in the room they were assigned while the Winchester’s sleep.
Sam stands on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. A hunt took them to Maine, wanderlust led them to the sea.
Sam whispers it, half a prayer and half a summoning.
The familiar sound of wings comes from Sam’s right. He doesn’t turn, doesn’t need to.
Sam swallows and nods.
They stare silently out over the waves coming in. Sam fixes his focus on the horizon line, the way the ocean and the sky are nearly identically pigmented at this time of day. The blur together. Sam smiles to himself as he thinks it. It’s all water. The sea and the sky.
“Castiel, you were a soldier.”
Sam tears his eyes away from the ocean to look at the angel.
“I am a soldier.”
“You fought angels?”
Castiel stays silent, waits.
“You fought demons, in hell.”
“Sam, there is much you do not know.”
Sam swings, the blade in his hand arcs toward Castiel’s shoulder, blocked when the angel shifts the grip on their blade and slides backward.
Dean is ten feet away, leveling a bolt of ice at them. Bracing their weight on one leg before rolling it forward through their hips and extending the arm holding the blade, Castiel throws the weapon. Loosing it directly at Dean before easing out of path of the ice projectile.
They raise a hand and stop the blade’s flight.
Castiel shifts sideways, inches from Sam’s chest as the blade clatters to the floor. They wrap a hand around Sam’s neck and squeeze with gentle pressure. Sam’s hand is reaching up to tap their forearm when Castiel steps out of reach.
They take another few steps back, glancing over the room. There are scorch marks along one wall, thick shards of ice littering the floor and a few drops of blood.
Sam leans against the wall he was recently pinned to, Dean kneels on the floor. His hands are gripping his thighs, a cut above his eye bleeds sluggishly.
They approach Dean, bending forward and swiping an index finger over the cut. It heals immediately. Castiel turns on the ball of one foot and walks toward the center of the room, retrieving their blade on the way.
Castiel looks at Sam, appraising him for injuries.
“Are you injured Sam?”
Castiel nods, rolling their wrist and swinging their blade in a sharp arc.
Alistair looks different somehow. Lesser and more than Dean’s remembrance of the demon. Each of the memories from Hell is warped or razor-ed, the clarity questionable.
Dean had summoned the demon himself, holding Alistair with willpower and a weak devil’s trap. Constructing a better one and weaving it into the existing trap.
Sam had stayed two floors and several doors away. Unable to hear what Dean was doing, or what Alistair was saying. That distance didn’t stop him from feeling his brother’s magic. Easing itself along the connection they shared.
Ninety four minutes after Dean began, his magic stutters. Flickers.
Sam has a smear of blood creasing the corner of his mouth. It’s his back-up plan.
Alistair is artfully draped in chains, sigils freshly etched into the metal. The demon is stalking across the room toward Dean’s still body. The blade in Alistair’s hand is blessed to hurt demons something awful, but the serrated edge of it is more than capable of killing a regular mortal.
Unthinking, Sam raises his arm.
The corpse Alistair had ridden topside slumps against the wall.
Sam pays no attention to it. Turning to Dean, who isn’t moving. Sam can sense him, the faint tug and constancy that is his brother. The gravity Dean Winchester exerts upon reality.
Sam cannot manipulate magic the way Dean can. He knows. He’s tried. Sam’s reach extends to manipulation of the demonic, a thought he shoves away. It isn’t worth dwelling on.
There is a sluggish flow of blood coming out of Dean’s nose. The manipulation of magic isn’t something writ absolutely. Sam bites his lip, kneeling beside his brother in the chalked lines of a devil’s trap. He allows his mind a moment to run. Diving down rabbit holes and embracing panic, attempting to bargain with the fey.
It’s finals week at Stanford all over again, the first moment he leveled a gun at something wearing the skin of a man yet utterly inhuman.
There is a way.
Sam shuts his eyes, the sporadic pulse under his fingers is the only outward sign that Dean is alive. Sam pushes, gives, asks.
Opening his eyes, Sam can only see concrete. He presses his face into the warmth of Dean’s shoulder, groaning. He pulls away from his brother, fighting nausea. There is sweat and blood clouding his vision.
Clearing it away, Sam sees the familiar shape of the Bunker’s garage.
Castiel hears the summons, answers the call.
They arrive to Sam Winchester, kneeling, bloodied and breathing hard. The fingers of one hand are coated in red. The other hand clenches in the fabric of Deans shirt. He looks up, meeting Castiel’s appraising gaze with an expression equal parts awestruck, terrified and proud.
They feel the residue of magic, the after burn of something used. Something intense.
“What happened here?”
They watch Sam’s grip tighten in his brother’s shirt.
“I found a loophole.”
Castiel takes Sam to see the first rainfall of the season as it reaches the desert.
Dean empties seven rounds into a paper target hanging at the end of the range.
“What was the loophole?”
Castiel’s voice is even. It’s early, Sam still wearing sweatpants and curled in one of the library chairs. Dean sleeps in another part of the Bunker. The Impala occupies a space in the garage.
Understanding lights Sam’s face, followed by a grimace that sparks a laugh. The recollection of hysterical, abstract thought makes Sam uneasy. The desperation of that moment comes to the surface too quickly.
“I’m not sure I can explain it to you.”
Sam looks around the room for a moment, biting his lip in thought.
They’ve pulled the Impala off the road.
Montana’s oil fields glow with warm flames, an unacknowledged reminder of hell.
Castiel stands behind them. Dean had pulled off to look at the night sky properly, a habit Sam encourages whenever possible. There is joy in the miles they’ve gone. Beauty if they bother looking for it.
Rural Montana is dark. Quiet.
Sam keeps looking at the sky, aware he has his brother’s attention.
“I’m going to find a way to stop this.”
They do not say the word apocalypse.
Castiel walks the hallways of the Bunker. They are barefoot, clad in sweatpants, fingertips running along one wall to calibrate their vessel’s balance.
Ave Maria plays. Loudly, due to a combination of technology and grace.
Pamela buys them a round.
It’s a dive, located just off the interstate. She’d called them in two days ago, claiming they were the closest contacts she had.
Dean thinks she just wanted help burning bodies. Or the comfort of a familiar face.
Sam can hear the muffled sounds of music.
He walks the hallways, dipping deeper into the Bunker. Searching for the source. He finds Castiel, weaving through stances. The angel holds it’s blade as though it were an extension of itself.
Sam watches until Castiel stops. The angel turns toward Sam, head down. The frayed hem of their sweatpants brushes the tops of it’s feet. Sam has never seen the angel look more human. Ribs visible as Castiel inhales, shoulders rolling. The skin at the crease of their elbows is visible.
“Have you come to spar?”
Sam looks from Dean to Castiel. Both are dressed in sweatpants and cotton shirts. Body language loose.
“What are the rules?”
Sam watches Dean smirk, feeling half a step behind his brother.
“Magic is prohibited.”
“Oh. Okay them.”
Dean and Castiel pace a few meters apart. They stare at each other for a moment, expressions calm.
Castiel moves, really moves. Closing on Dean and arcing a kick high. Dean blocks, bending low to shove into Castiel’s space. Castiel moves with the blow, circling back to slam a fist into Dean’s ribs. Dean doubles over, head now caught in Castiel’s grip.
The angel plants a foot and twists themselves. Dean following the motion, his own body weight throwing him to the ground, compounded by the force Castiel added to the throw.
Before Dean lands Castiel is following him down, settling heavy across his chest. They press a palm to Dean’s chest, one arm held out to the side.
Sam traces the shape of the angel blade where it sits in Castiel’s hand.
Castiel somehow gets a hold of a cassette tape with Ave Maria recorded on it.
The song weaves through the Impala, leaking from the open windows onto the Wisconsin road. Sam sleeps in the back seat, warmed by sunshine and a successful case.
Sam waits, standing at crossroads. Fresh dirt on his hands.
Castiel and Dean are present, waiting.
Crowley appears. Suit and tie, pressed and polished.
“Your entourage is overkill.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“What is it you want, Winchester?”
“Is that all?”
Sam doesn’t speak, gives Crowley a few heartbeats to come to a conclusion alone.
“Right then. What are you offering?”
Crowley doesn’t hesitate.
“Agreed. Now, what do you want to know?”
Castiel walks into the kitchen, concrete floor cool on his feet.
Sam is spreading jam across a piece of toasted bread. Dean shifts his weight from hip to hip, restless energy searching for an outlet as he cooks eggs in a pan.
The Winchesters are Castiel’s favorite miracle.